Students receive 10 years

Students receive 10 years by Randy Dockendorf Two former University of South Dakota students have each been sentenced to 10 years in the state penitentiary, with eight years suspended, for the April 27 beating of another USD student.

Mitch Rivard and Scott Beckman were sentenced Jan. 22 in Clay County Circuit Court for beating Jeff Strong outside his dorm, Norton Hall. Beckman and Rivard remain free on $25,000 bond but must surrender themselves to authorities by Jan. 29.

Under South Dakota's sentencing guidelines, Rivard and Beckman must serve at least 50 percent of the sentence � one year � before receiving consideration for parole. Rivard was credited with 30 days for time served in jail and under house arrest.

Rivard and Beckman faced a maximum 15 years in prison and $15,000 fine for aggravated assault, a Class III felony. They had sought a suspended imposition of sentence.

Rivard pleaded guilty to the aggravated-assault charge while Beckman was convicted by a Clay County Circuit Court jury. The verdict against Beckman capped two days of testimony from about two dozen witnesses.

Strong, a member of the USD football team and a Norton Hall resident assistant, suffered extensive facial injuries in the beating, which has created problems with memory, vision and comprehension.

At Thursday's sentencing, Judge Arthur Rusch also ordered the defendants to pay the following restitution, jointly or severally:

* $10,124.67 to Jeff Strong;

* $8,575.86 to the South Dakota Victims Compensation Fund;

* $57.74 to the owner of a bike damaged in the incident.

In addition, Beckman must pay $2,614.34 for prosecution costs and $3,000 to the Strong family for their expenses in attending the court proceedings. Rivard must repay the Clay County public defender's office.

The defendants, members of the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity, were also ordered to write a letter to the fraternity president, ordering members to stop harassment of Strong.

Rusch blasted Lambda Chi for its role in the assault, saying it holds a history of problems.

"Why would two individuals, who previously led exemplary lives, engage in this kind of vicious assault on someone they didn't even know?" he asked. "Certainly, alcohol was a major factor. So was the culture of arrogance surrounding the Lamba Chi Alpha fraternity house."

The fraternity obstructed justice on the night of the assault, he said.

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"The members of the fraternity lied to the officers in pursuit, telling the officers that the defendants going down the alley when knowing very well that (the defendants) had gone into the house," Rusch said.

"The house manager did everything he knew, he did whatever he could, to obstruct the investigation that night. I point the finger to everyone involved.

"But I am not in any way blaming the president, Nick Moser. He is the one person who did help the authorities to conclude the investigation. And he said he was embarrassed to be a Lambda Chi."

According to Rusch, the Lambda Chi members continue to harass Strong, who lives across the street from the fraternity house.

"They (fraternity members) take off his license plate, yell 'f—er' at him and say he's a tough guy. The Lamba Chi pledges harass him at the door," the judge said. "This is one of the most absolutely reprehensible things I have seen in a long time."

Both defendants said they were sorry for the assault and the resulting injuries to Strong.

"Apologizing does not make it better. I wish I could change this, but I can't and it's set in stone. I am willing to accept any sentence the court sets for me," Rivard said.

Beckman said he regretted not only the damage to Strong but to his family, girlfriend and friends. "I can't imagine the nightmares this has caused for them," he said.

Rusch said he did not find one defendant guiltier than the other.

"I am satisfied Mr. Rivard delivered the first blows and that they caused more injuries than the blows by Mr. Beckman," he said. "But Mr. Rivard was more accepting of accountability than Mr. Beckman."

Rusch rejected defense claims the assault did not result in movement of a colloid cyst, removed during surgery in a Sioux Falls hospital. The judge also rejected defense arguments the state failed to prove a direct link between the assault and Strong's injuries.

Rusch also rejected a defense claim that Strong had not proved he was unable to resume many aspects of his everyday life.

Strong recounted his suffering from the injuries sustained in the beating. He said he struggles with his studies after previously making the dean's list, and he has been forced to quit the football team. He also suffers headaches, nausea, loss of balance, visual disturbance and increased dizziness.

Strong said the assault has caused him tremendous anxiety.

"The attack has completely changed my life. I'm not the same person," he said. "I look over my shoulder all the time. I jump at loud noises. I can't cross campus without looking around me."

Rivard's father, John Rivard, testified his son has turned his life around by working for his business. In addition, the younger Rivard underwent house arrest with no alcohol and no friends allowed when the father is not home.

Mitch Rivard's experience has exerted a positive influence on his siblings, and he wants to enter the Marines which becomes impossible with a felony, John Rivard said.

"He ain't a lost cause," the elder Rivard said of his son.

Rivard's attorney, Phil Peterson, said his client turned his life around.

Beckman's attorney, Robert Christenson, said his client has gone through alcohol rehabilitation, served a summer internship in Denver, holds a full-time job and has enrolled at Augustana College in Sioux Falls where he holds a B average.

Christenson added that his client has no prior convictions, was convicted of the alternative count and was not the primary aggressor in the assault.

"Mr. Beckman is a good young man with a bright future who made a terrible mistake," the attorney said.

The defense's arguments drew fire from Clay County State's Attorney Tami Bern, who said this was the only case in her career where she didn't offer a plea bargain.

"This was violence for the sport of it," she said.

Rusch said there were no winners in the case.

"I can't make Mr. Strong into the same person he was, and there is nothing Mr. Rivard and Beckman can do to make him into the same person he was before," Rusch said.

"It's so sad that entire lives have been affected. There is simply no reason for it at all."

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